Charlie (David Gulpilil) isn’t doing too badly in his remote Northern community. He’s smart enough to put one over both the local police and the white drug dealers who come up to make a quick buck, he can go hunting if he wants a free feed (he’s not a huge fan of the junk food the local supermarket sells), he’s got a humpy to sleep in (he had a house but his family took it over and it was too noisy for his taste) and he’s got friends to talk to if he feels like a chat. But the law isn’t quite as lax as it used to be and soon things start to add up: he has his shotgun confiscated, a sick friend is taken to Darwin – a grim fate, to be separated from the land you grew up on – he’s not allowed to hunt with a spear (it’s a lethal weapon, you see) and when his own health takes a turn for the worse he goes bush to finish out his days on his own terms. But it’s not meant to be, and once he’s in Darwin he finds it’s all too easy to go off the rails.
Director Rolf de Heer’s third film with the 60-year-old Gulpilil is a quiet, matter-of-fact character study that slowly draws you into Charlie’s life, thanks in large part to a towering performance from Gulpilil himself. Inspired in part by Gulpilil’s own life (but he’s in no way playing himself here) and recent struggles, this doesn’t lay blame in any one direction; rather, it consistently points out the way that two cultures living side by side can have very different aims – and in Australia, it’s the white culture everyone else has to bend to.
Sad at times but very funny as well, this is easily the best Australian film – so far, at least – of 2014.